Feel the Love: 5 Tips for Acing Your Spring Break College Tour


What’s the best way to find out what a college is really like?

You can scope out schools that suit you with high-tech resources like Edupath’s mobile College Explorer (available free with Edupath’s SAT test prep app). You can take virtual tours of campuses, pore over faculty resumes, and study students’ “why this school rocks” statements until the cows come home. (Yes, cows do keep notoriously late hours).

But despite the wealth of information available online, most of us make life’s Big Decisions based on gut feelings, not on facts and figures.

And for many high school students, the feel of a college—the look, the locale, the way people drop their R’s or talk through their noses, even the aroma of the place (magnolia? French fries? tobacco?)—is what turns a vague interest into a fierce passion. Or, of course, the opposite.

Any college visit is better than no college visit. After all, you can’t find out whether you and Sounds-Good U have great chemistry if you never get within orbiting distance. But to get the most out of your time on campus, invest a little before-travel time in the following five simple tasks.


 1. Map Out Your Trip

For an exploratory college visit–the kind typically made by high school juniors during spring break–the stakes are low, and the ways to approach the experience are varied. You could:

  • Focus on colleges in just one city or region

  • Check out whichever colleges interest you the most, even if they’re far-flung

  • Sign up with professional providers for a packaged group tour (google “College Tours” to find trips of this type)

  • Stay at home, and tour colleges in or near your town

Whatever your strategy, experts say it’s best to limit college visits to two a day. You don’t want to wind up with your head swimming, your feet aching, and distinctly non-SAT vocabulary words exploding out of your mouth.


2. Yoo Hoo, It’s Me: Contact Colleges Before You Tour

Nothing says you can’t scope out a campus on your own. In fact, you should! More about this in a minute. But start–especially at bigger schools–by taking advantage of official guidance. Almost all colleges offer (1) an information session with admissions staff and (2) a campus tour led by current college students.

You can expect to spend between one and three hours, total, attending the information session and taking the college-provided campus tour.

Visit the school’s website to find out how to register for these standard offerings. Usually you’ll be directed to an online sign-up form or a phone number.

 Other freebies that a college can help you arrange:

  • An interview with admissions staff

  • Touring a specific department

  • Attending a class

  • Talking to a professor

  • Talking to a coach

  • Spending the night in a dorm (usually for high school seniors only)


3. Make It Your Mission to Snoop

Unlike standardized tests and application essays, the exploratory college tour is all about what you want to know about a college, not what a college wants to know about you. On any campus, take time after the official programming to get the vibe of the following:

  • Student center

  • Main library and other libraries

  • Student bookstore

  • Sports facilities

  • Dining halls

  • Student newspaper

  • Posters, flyers, advertisements

  • Office of undergraduate admissions (while you’re there, you might as well say hi to the staff and tell them your name)

And especially, check out the students. Do people look interesting to you? Where is everybody hanging out? What are they eating? Where are they studying? Oh, and by the way–this is a college tour, after all–how much are they studying?

4. Nab a Notebook

To make the most of your tour, take on-the-spot notes. Bring a notebook for this purpose, or use a digital device–whatever is most comfortable. It’s also smart to snap a few photos here and there. An image of a crowded bike rack, students sunbathing on a dormitory roof, or the sculpture garden in the center of campus will help you remember details you might otherwise forget.

Believe it or not, this material will come in handy just a few months down the road. Many colleges, as you’ll soon discover, require applicants to write a short essay about why they want to attend that particular school, and “Just because I do” is not going to catapult your application to the top of the heap. Referring back to your notes on the cozy study areas in the library, the friendliness of the professor who stopped to give you directions, or the intriguing internships described by three random students will provide the kind of interesting and convincing detail that colleges like to see.

5. Pack for Maximum Impact

Unless you’re bringing a sherpa, you’ll be doing a lot of luggage-hefting over the course of a several-day college tour. Pack accordingly (think Zen monk, not compulsive hoarder).

  • Check the weather report for the area(s) you’re visiting. Will you need a below-zero parka or a fold-up umbrella? Flannel-lined jeans or walking shorts?

  • When in doubt, choose clothes that are comfortable, casual (but not tacky or tattered), and clean. Note: “casual” means one thing at a performing arts college, quite another at West Point.

  • Chances are, you won’t be touring all those acres of libraries, dining halls, and tennis courts while glamorously perched atop a royal elephant. Shoes you can actually walk (and walk and walk) in are a must. Save the steep platforms and thigh-high lace-ups for more sedentary situations.

“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God,” wrote the novelist Kurt Vonnegut (who, back in the day, may or may not have gone on a pre-college tour of his alma mater, Cornell). And just like a beginning tango or salsa class, a spring break college tour is likely to leave you exhausted from exertion–but exhilarated by the way your horizons have suddenly expanded.

Now go on, get out of town.


In April, featured blogger Autumn Stephens will report on a real live spring break tour with a real live high school junior.


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